Wednesday, May 18, 2011
A is for Aiding, Abetting, and Accountability
This week of Jewish News features two events which I believe feature an underlying factor: lack of accountability, . The first event was an emergency campaign to raise $50,000 for the boys in Japan. The second was the sentencing of W. Runge.
In the latter case, the defendant was accused of deceiving the state in procuring tax credits for film, pleaded guilty, and then proceeded to set up a now defunct blog slandering the judge and prosecution, accusing them of impropriety, political conspiracy, and anti-semitism. Her story and words were featured on the Chazak Hotline and in Jewish publications, including the Jewish Star (see Shining a Light on Iowa for some rather grotesque charges again "Iowa"). While her story and accusations certainly didn't receive the press of other ongoing stories, the underlying themes were the same.
The judge handed her a doozy of a sentence, although she appeared contrite in court, based on her public statements from the time she plead guilty onwards. Here are his words, which were delivered hesitantly and with some pain.
This is a very difficult case for the court. Here is a defendant who has no prior criminal history, who has a family, and who isn't normally a candidate the court would consider as a candidate for incarceration. However, this defendant not just before her plea of guilty, but even after her plea of guilty, has not taken responsibility for her behavior. There is nothing muddying the waters about that. And your statement here today is not genuine and not sincere. What is sincere is the things you said out of the courtroom, out of your probable perception that it would make its way to the courtroom, because there is no reason not to be truthful there in that setting. And it that setting, you have attacked the judges who have presided in your case, you've attacked the prosecutors, you've blamed this on anti-semitism, you have blamed this on some sort of political conspiracy, and you have not taken responsibility for what you did.
And what you did was a felony. It was a criminal class C felony. It is considered a very serious crime by the Iowa Legislature. It was an attempt to defraud the people of the state of Iowa. And one of the most important considerations for the court in determining an appropriate sentence is to. . . it's not one of. . . it's the guiding principals for the court to choose a sentence that will both provide a maximum opportunity for your rehabilitation and also deter the commission of this offense by others. This cannot happen by placing someone on probation who does not accept responsibility for what she did, who publicly proclaimed that what she did was not wrong, and it certainly will not deter others from doing that.
This is a case, that in my judgement, calls out for the court to send a message to you and a message to others who would engage in this kind of behavior that it is not accepted, that it is criminal, and it won't be tolerated.
Whether at some point in time I might be willing to reconsider my judgement in this case is open to question. But for right now, at this moment in time, based on what you did and, again, your complete, what I would call arrogant, defiant, disclaiming responsibility, this in my judgement is an appropriate sentence. For the reasons that I just said, you are sentenced to an indeterminate term of incarceration not to exceed 10 years, you are accessed fine, the mandatory minimum fine of $1000 along with the applicable surcharge. I'm going to suspend your sentence because of your incarceration. . . etc.
In the case of the boys in Japan, the emergency campaign sought to raise $50,000 this week in order to pay a fine for Yaakov Yosef in order that he Japanese authorities consider transferring him to Israel. While other Jewish publications had previously published other accounts of the boys' story, the current account reads as such:
Japan. A strange and foreign land, geographically and ideologically. A country whose crime rate is exceptionally low due to its merciless treatment of criminals and even suspected criminals, whose penal system includes harsh labor camps and prisons. A place where two of Acheinu Bnei Yisroel are incarcerated for over two and half years through no fault of their own.
"Through no fault of their own." In each and every case I've highlighted in the past few years, the underlying theme of Jewish media is "though not fault of his/her/their own. It is a witch hunt, the product of anti-semitism, the result of a cruel penal system (never mind that Hashem commands societies to establish courts of law and seek justice).
I don't any particular issue with a kehilla stepping forward to help accused and/or convicted Jewish criminals, although these "pidyon shevuyim" causes are not my tzedakah of choice as I don't believe any of the cases presented obligate that I divert money from the little real tzedakah we are able to give after bills, tuition, and shul dues for pidyon shevuyin.
What I do have an issue with is lack of accountability and lack of introspection brought on by a Jewish media circus. In an attempt to create stories of inspiration and chizuk or in an attempt to promote being dan l'chaf zechut, lines of battles are being drawn in the sand between "them" and "us", and lost amongst the furvor are any opportunities for introspection and accountability. And in the case of Ms. Runge, giving her a platform to attack the prosecution and judges (an example here at Matzav), media--her own and Jewish media--has essentially aided and abetted in her sentencing, a sentencing that no doubt would have been much softer had she expressed only contrition and throwing herself at the mercy of the judge.
If the boys in Japan (ages 17, 19, and 22) were not at fault for accepting $1,000 each for agreeing to transport antiques in closed false bottom suitcases at the sum of $1,000 each (a sum that is being called "small" but for which is takes much effort and education for many a working person to net), then who is is at fault?
The Jewish media is busy talking about the lack of rachmanut present in the Japanese justice system and criticizing it full force (see Gil Student's article from 2009). While there are tehillim gatherings, speeches in shul, and emails being sent around listserves, I've yet to see someone in a position of "authority" talking about parenting, vocations, employment, poverty, or life outside of yeshiva.
The Japan case isn't the first case where frum boys acted as drug mules, nor will it be the last in there is no accountability. I can think of at least two other past cases, and in one the (non-frum) judge gave the parents of some 17 year old boys quite the mussar schmooze on parenting. If the boys share no fault, than certainly the parents and those who act in loco parentis share some responsibility? How do young, unmarried men (from impoverished families) make it out of Yeshiva without eyebrows raised, much less out of the country? I can barely make it out my front door without inquiries from the in-laws! When I was a teen, I could barely make it down the block unnoticed. I specifically remember one time where my *father* interrogated me about a T-Shirt I was wearing that he did not recognize.
Long overdue is some real accountability. [Cynicism warning: but all there seems to be are messages about tzniut].